Notes on Philippians 1:1-2

Philippians 1:1-2
Let us seek, with the blessing of God, to develop a little the special features of this epistle on which we now enter. For the better understanding of what comes before us, we may also compare its character with that of others, features of which may be gathered from the very first verse. The apostle introduces himself in the simplest possible manner: “Paul and Timotheus the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons; grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Elsewhere, even if he presents himself as a servant, he does not fail also to add his apostolic title, or some other distinction by which God had separated him from the rest of his brethren. But here it is not so. He is led of the Holy Ghost to present himself upon the broadest ground to the children of God in Philippi; on this he could fully associate Timotheus with himself. Thus we may gather from the very start of the epistle that we are not to look for the wonderful unfoldings of Christian and Church truth, such as we have in Romans, Corinthians, or Ephesians, where the apostleship of Paul is most carefully stated.
“Paul a servant of Jesus Christ called to be an apostle.” (Rom. 1) He was not an apostle by birth, but by the call of God; he adds further, that they were saints by the very same divine call whereby he was an apostle— “called to be saints,” both through the sovereign grace of God. There was nothing in either that could have been an inherent claim upon God. There was deadly sin in both, but the grace of God that had called them to be saints, had called him to be not a saint only but an apostle. As such he addresses them in the full consciousness of the place that Christ had given him and them, unfolding the truth from the very first foundation on which the gospel rests, the grace of God, and the ruin of man. Hence in that epistle you have something that more approaches to a doctrinal treatise than in any other portion of the New Testament. God took care that no apostle ever visited Rome, till there were many saints already there, and then He wrote by the Apostle Paul. The proud imperial city cannot boast of an apostolic foundation; yet, spite of that, man has put in the claim and pressed it with fire and sword. Paul, however, wrote in the fullness of his own apostleship and brings out the truth of God to them most carefully, so that the very ignorance of the Roman saints was the occasion for the Holy Ghost to give us the most elaborate statement of Christian truth which the word of God contains. By Christian truth I mean the individual instruction which the soul wants in order to the consciousness of its solid standing before God and the duties which flow from it. There the apostle writes expressly as an, apostle. It could not be understood as a human composition. There must be the authority of God, claimed by the apostle; and while he strengthens them in their position of saints, by the very same he makes room for that development of Christian truth, for which the epistle is remarkable.
In the Corinthians he addresses them, not merely as saints, as individual Christians, but as an assembly; and there also be asserts his apostleship. Does not this serve to illustrate the truth that there is not a word inserted or omitted in Scripture, but what is full of instruction for our souls if we are willing to be instructed? To the Corinthians he does not add as in Romans “a servant of Jesus Christ,” but simply “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God.” There he carefully puts Sosthenes, upon his own proper ground, as a brother, while he distinguishes his own apostleship. The reason is obvious. The Corinthians were in a turbulent state, going so far as even to gainsay the apostleship of Paul. But God never lowers what He has given, because men do not like it. It was a part, not more of God's grace to Paul, than of his humble obedience before God, to act and speak as an apostle; if he had not, he would have failed in his duty; he would not have done that which was essential for the glory of God and the good of the saints. Everything is in its proper place. So if the Corinthians were questioning what God had wrought in and by the Apostle Paul and the place He had given in His wisdom, the apostle asserts it with dignity; or rather the Holy Ghost represents him only as an apostle to them, speaks of others but not as apostles, and addresses the Corinthians as “the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” None but one who knew what God is to His saints, and how He holds to the power of His own grace, would have addressed such as the Corinthians, in such terms as these; none but a heart that understood God's love to His own, and alas! to what lengths they may be drawn aside where the flesh gains advantage; none but one admirably, divinely acquainted with his own heart and with God could ever have addressed them in the language with which that epistle opens. But it was God who was writing through His apostle. And as the conduct of the Church on earth is the thesis of the Epistle to the Corinthians, He shows us there the principle of putting away and of receiving again, the administration of the Lord's supper, and its moral meaning; the working of the various gifts in the Church, &c. All these things as being the functions of the Church or of members of the Church are found in the Epistles to the Corinthians. But even in the exercise of gifts, it is gifts in the assembly. Therefore, there is no reference to evangelizing in Corinthians, because the evangelist's gift does not of course, find its exercise within the Church. He goes, properly speaking, outside the Church, in order to exercise that gift. You have prophets, teachers, &c. All these were gifts of a still higher order and regularly exercised in the assembly of God.
Here also we shall see how appropriately the preface falls in with the object of the Holy Ghost throughout: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons; grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now this is the only church where we have the “bishops and deacons” addressed as well as the saints. The reason may have been that it was, more or less, a transition state. We have three things in the Church of the New Testament. The first is—apostles, acting in the full power of their gift and office. Then, besides deacons, bishops or elders, (for these mean the same officials, only called by a different name,) apostolically appointed to the charge which the Lord had given them; the bishops having to do with that which is internal, the deacons with that which is external, but both of them local offices, while the apostle had his authority from the Lord everywhere. The Holy Ghost shows us thus the full regimen in the churches: that is to say, the apostles acting in their high place who were called to establish the foundations of the Church practically, and to govern it upon a large scale throughout the whole breadth of the Church of God upon earth; and beside them, these local guides, the bishops and deacons.
Thirdly, The apostle was now separated from the Church, and hence no longer able to watch over the saints personally. He writes accordingly to these who had no longer his apostolic care, not only where they had not; but, in this case, where they had bishops and deacons. Yet in the latest epistles, where the apostle is filled with the sense of his speedy departure, there is not the slightest allusion to any provision for perpetuating these officers—not even when writing confidentially to one whom he had called on to ordain elders in Crete.
Thus this epistle brings us to a sort of transition. It supposes the assembly in ecclesiastical order. But the apostle's absence in person seems to be intended of God to prepare the Church for the absence of apostles entirely. Thus God graciously gave the Church a kind of preparation for their removal from the scene practically. Even while Paul was on the earth he was shut out from them, and gone from the scene, as far as regarded apostolic vigilance. The time was coming when there would be no longer apostolically appointed bishops and deacons. The Spirit of God was, it would appear, thereby accustoming the Church to find in God the only stable means of support when apostles would be no longer within reach of those who used to look to them and to claim their wisdom in their difficulties. But though the apostle was not there, they had the “bishops and deacons,” not a bishop and several deacons, and still less bishops and presbyters (or, priests) and deacons, but several of the higher spiritual guides as well as of the lower. In those days a bishopric was not a great worldly prize, but a serious spiritual care, which, however excellent an employment, was no object of ambition or means of lucre. “If any man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work;” but it called for such self-denial, such constant trial by night and day, deeper even in the Church than from the world without, that it was by no means a thing for the best qualified in the Spirit to rush into, but to take up with the utmost gravity, as that to which he was called of God. For this among other reasons the Church never pretended to choose or constitute a bishop. It was invariably by apostolic authority. One or more apostles acted in this—not necessarily Paul only or the twelve. It might be a Barnabas; at least we find in certain cases Paul and Barnabas acting together in choosing elders or bishops. But this may show what a delicate task it was. The Lord never gives it to any person except an apostle or an apostolic man; that is, a man sent out by an apostle to do that work for him, such as Titus and perhaps Timothy. But there the scripture account closes; and while we have provision for the Church going on and the certainty of gifts supplied to the end, there is no means laid down for perpetuating these elders and bishops.
Was there then forgetfulness of ordinary need on the apostle's, nay, on God's, part? For this is really what the matter comes to, and he who supposes that anything of the kind was omitted in Scripture thus carelessly, in effect, impeaches the faithful wisdom of God. Who wrote Scripture? Either you resort to the wretched notion that God was indifferent or the apostles forgot; or, acknowledging that Scripture flows from the highest source, you have no escape from the conclusion that God was intentionally silent as to the future supply of elders or bishops. But the God who knew and ordered everything from the beginning forgot nothing; on the contrary, He expressly, and in His own wisdom, left no means, in the foreseen ruin of Christendom, for continuing the appointment of elders and deacons. Was it not then desirable, if not necessary, for churches to have such? Surely if we reason thus, apostles were as loudly called for as the lower officials. The fact is most evident that the same God who has seen fit to withhold a continuous line of apostles, has not been pleased to give the means for a scriptural continuance of bishops and deacons. How is it then that we have no such officers now? Most simple is the answer; because we have no apostles to appoint them. Will you tell me if any body else has got them? Let us at least be willing to acknowledge our real lack in this respect; it is our duty to God, because it is the truth; and the owning it keeps one from much presumption. For in general Christendom is doing without apostles what is only lawful to be done by or with them. The appointment of elders and deacons goes upon the notion that there is an adequate power still resident in men or the Church. But the only scriptural ordaining power is an apostle acting directly or indirectly. Titus or Timothy could not go and ordain elders except as and where authorized by the apostles. Hence when Titus had done this work, he was to come back to the apostle. He was not in anywise one who had invested in him a certain fund to apply at all times where and how he pleased. Scripture represents that he was acting under apostolic guidance. But after the apostles were gone, not a word about the power acting through these or other delegates of the apostle. God forbid that we should pretend either to make an apostle or to make light of his absence! It is more humble to say, We are thankful to use what God has given and whatever God may continue to give, without pretending to more. Is there not faith, and lowliness, and obedience in the position that acknowledges the present want in the Church and that simply acts according to the power that remains, which is all-sufficient for every need and danger? The true way to glorify God is not to assume an apostolic authority that we do not possess, but to act confiding in the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, who does remain. It was distinctly the Lord Himself, who, working by the Holy Ghost, acted upon all the saints and who put each of them in that particular place in the body that He saw fit. It is not a question of our drawing inferences from a man's gifts that he is an apostle. To be an apostle required the express, personal call of the Lord in a remarkable way; and without this there never was adequate, ordaining power, personally or by deputy.
As this may help to meet a question that often arises in the minds of Christians, and suggested by a verse such as we have before us, I have thought it well to meet the difficulty, trusting to the word and Spirit of God.
The apostle, then, introduces himself and Timothy as “the servants of Jesus Christ to all the saints in Christ Jesus.” It is not exactly “to the Church,” as in writing to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians, but to “all the saints.” We may gather from this that he is about to speak of what is individual rather than of what belonged to them as a public assembly, but it is not, as in Romans, on the basis of redemption. He was going to enlarge on their walk with God, saluting them as usual with the words, “grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”